Saturday, December 17, 2011

What I've Been Reading . . .

Jon Krakauer, a recently discovered favorite.

As I was reading my latest undertaking - Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven - I started to come across the names of some places that had just recently entered my awareness, due to Michigan's recruitment of Salt Lake City (UT) Highland fullback Sione Houma.  The book is mostly about the history of the Mormon religion, Mormon Fundamentalism, and the things people do for their religion.  One of the proposed names for Utah Territory before it was established was "Deseret," which means "honeybee" in The Book of Mormon.  TTB Andrew and I mined the Deseret News  for weekly updates on Houma during his senior season; the paper happens to be owned by the church of the Latter-Day Saints.

Under the Banner of Heaven  by Jon Krakauer.  The frame for the book comes from the 1984 murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty, the wife and 15-month-old daughter of Allen Lafferty.  Brenda and Erica were murdered by Allen's older brothers, whose polygamy and extreme Fundamentalist views were threatening the relationships and physical safety of many women and children in the Lafferty family.  Krakauer reveals the run-up to the murders while simultaneously explaining the origins of the Mormon religion, beginning with the "prophet" Joseph Smith in the early 19th century.  Having known very little about about Mormonism prior to picking up the book, I have found myself fascinated by how quickly and dangerously this off-shoot of Christianity has spread.

Three and Out
  by John U. Bacon.  Everybody and his brother has offered his thoughts on Three and Out, which is why I haven't posted in depth on my response to the book.  Bacon follows Rich Rodriguez throughout his three years at Michigan, while also detailing some interviews with others inside the program.  There's not much that gets revealed that devout Michigan fans didn't know already, but it's nice to get confirmation on some things that were thought to possibly just be internet rumors.  It's clear that Rodriguez was playing catch-up from the time he was hired and had a snowball's chance in Hell to be successful.  Rodriguez was somewhat guilty of failing to endear himself to Michigan people, especially with the way he got rid of so many Michigan staffers; rather than making appointments, workers who wanted to stay at Michigan had to wait in line to interview for a chance to keep their positions.  It was a great book for a Michigan fan to read, but only if you like torturing yourself.

The Neverending Story  by Michael Ende.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I still read children's books.  I watched the movie as a kid but never realized back then that The Neverending Story was actually a book.  It was surprisingly long and convoluted for a children's book, but it was pleasant nonetheless.  It's the story of a world that is slowly disintegrating because nobody reads the book anymore.  The only person who can save Fantastica is a fat, nerdy bookworm . . . like Manny from Modern Family.  Or me.

The Silence of the Lambs  by Thomas Harris.  This is an older book, but I was immediately transfixed by Anthony Hopkins' performance when I saw the film several years ago.  Unfortunately, I never got around to reading any of the books by Harris, but this past summer, I read Hannibal  and couldn't get enough.  True crime has always been interesting to me, and while I'm not particularly fond of fictionalized crime novels, the Hannibal Lecter series has me enthralled.  In case you're unfamiliar, a pathological serial killer in the form of Lecter helps a young FBI trainee find a fellow serial killer from behind bars.

The Death of Bunny Munro  by Nick Cave.  I've always been a fan of Cave's music (Murder Ballads, anyone?), but I was unimpressed by this literary effort.  I kept waiting for the story to go into overdrive because I admire Cave's lyrics, but the story just kind of floated along until the anti-climactic ending.  On the plus side, Cave did write the screenplay and soundtrack for The Proposition.  Maybe I'll just stick to watching his movies and listening to his songs about death.


  1. Krakauer is indeed a fine writer. I assume you read "Where Men Win Glory"? I finished it in three days. A fascinating story put onto page by a damn good writer. I'm going to make time for "Under the Banner of Heaven" sometime in the near future.

    Thanks for the booklist. I think you should make this a regular feature.

  2. I truly love Rex Stouts Nero Wolfe series. Highly recommended, and acclaimed detective fiction. Series takes place in NYC and was written in a contemporary timeline. Books in the 40's deal with WW2 and the mob, books written during the 50s have occasional communist themes, first book involves the main character finally giving up his bootleg beer and deciding on which legitimate bottles to buy. Writer was something of a literary and mathematics savant, read his parents entire 1,200 volume library, memorized Shakespeare's entire written works and only ever needed to reread one book (the Bible) by the time he was 12 years old. (Would later reread Austen because he liked her writing so much) Despite being highly intelligent his wit and sense of humor dominate the daily landscape of his novels. Atmosphere is the real main character in his books which let you enjoy them over and over again. Each is a bit of a time capsule of 1930's -1970's America from the cars people drove, to soda fountains, to pre-area code phone numbers, to typewriters, to the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, to the clothes people wore (Stout married a fashion designer and his characters would often be summed up by how they dressed.) His protagonists are similar to Christie's and Doyle's method of two flawed characters teamed together in a codependent working relationship, Wolfe is a true Falstaff, eccentric, a gourmet, and thoroughly melodramatic, and Archie Goodwin is his practical leg man, and hired irritant to prod Wolfe into working" Fer-de-Lance is his first Wolfe novel and worth buying.
    "Among the detective fiction (William) Faulkner read — and it was of considerable quantity — he especially liked that by Rex Stout. One of Mr. Stout's novels which was singled out was Fer-de-Lance."
    "This fellow is the best of them all." -Oliver Wendell Holmes
    "My favorite fatty" -Archie Goodwin (character in, and narrator of the series)

  3. Thanks Magnus; I need a book for the holidays. I know someone who would be very interested in Under the Banner of Heaven. (For a moment I assumed it was about the M Club banner.)

    Regarding Three and Out: I think people take it too far to see it as the definitive account. It's definitive about one party's perspective, Rodriguez's: Everyone was against him, making it impossible to succeed -- closely matching what Rodriguez himself has suggested, and incidentally similar to what Rodriguez said about WVU: He left because of lack of support from the administration.)

    Not to knock Bacon; he writes very well, but he's not an historian or journalist and I don't think he's trying to be either. Some of the excerpts I read show him clearly caught up in Rodriguez' point of view, which is natural after a few years. It's a good story.

    It doesn't have to be definitive to be an interesting book, but we don't know what happened until we hear from the other parties (which unfortunately may never happen).

  4. @ Anonymous 12:20 p.m.

    I haven't read "Where Men Win Glory" yet, but it's on my list. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Ahhh Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Definitely an acquired taste.
    Hard to dance though.

    And no-one saw the carny go
    And the weeks flew by
    Until they moved on the show
    Leaving his caravan behind
    It was parked out on the south east ridge
    And as the company crossed the bridge
    With the first rain filling the bone-dry river bed
    It shone, just so, upon the edge
    Away, away, we're sad, they said

    Dog-boy, atlas, half-man, the geeks, the hired hands
    There was not one among them that did not cast an eye behind
    In the hope that the carny would return to his own kind

    And the carny had a horse, all skin and bone
    A bow-backed nag, that he named "Sorrow"
    How it is buried in a shallow grave
    In the then parched meadow

    And the dwarves were given the task of digging the ditch
    And laying the nag's carcass in the ground
    And boss Bellini, waving his smoking pistol around
    saying "The nag is dead meat"
    "We caint afford to carry dead weight"
    The whole company standing about
    Not making a sound
    And turning to dwarves perched on the enclosure gate
    The boss says "Bury this lump of crow bait"

    And thean the rain came
    Everybody running for their wagons
    Tying all the canvas flaps down
    The mangy cats crowling in ther cages
    The bird-girl flapping and squawking around
    The whole valley reeking of wet beast
    Wet beast and rotten hay
    Freak and brute creation
    Packed up and on their way

    The three dwarves peering from their wagon's hind
    Moses says to Noah "We shoulda dugga deepa one"
    Their grizzled faces like dying moons
    Still dirty from the digging done

    And as the company passed from the valley
    Into a higher ground
    The rain beat on the ridge and on the meadow
    And on the mound

    Until nothing was left, nothing at all
    Except the body of Sorrow
    That rose in time
    To float upon the surface of the eaten soil

    And a murder of crows did circle round
    First one, then the others flapping blackly down

    And the carny's van still sat upon the edge
    Tilting slowly as the firm ground turned to sludge
    And the rain it hammered down

    And no-one saw the carny go
    I say it's funny how things go

  6. @ guanxi

    I agree with many of your thoughts on Three and Out, but I think it's safe to call Bacon a journalist, and he has a U-M degree in history. It's fair to raise questions, but it's not like Bacon lacked the education/experience to do a good job.

  7. @ Michael 12:45 p.m.

    I've never read Rex Stout. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. By the way, I agree with TTB Andrew. I think John U. Bacon counts as a journalist. That doesn't mean he's impervious to some bias here and there, but most (or all) journalists show bias in some way.

  9. @ Thunder

    Rosenberg and Snyder being notable examples. The question of course being, "Can those two be counted as journalists?"

    Do I seem bitter?

  10. Thunder, if you like Krakauer, then you should read Into Thin Air, his account of a disastrous Mt. Everest expedition he was part of. One of the most riveting books I've ever read.

  11. I was wrong about Bacon; he certainly is a journalist. See his bio:

    I still think it's the definitive account of Rodriguez' perspective, not of the events themselves.

  12. I think Into the Wild is Krakauer best effort. Penn's movie adaptation is good, but Krakauer does not idealize McCandless to the same extreme, I highly recommend it. Also, check out Cormac McCarty if you have not already. The Road will crush you before bringing new purpose to your life the very next day, and No Country blows the movie adaptation out of the water.

  13. @ Anonymous 8:42 a.m.

    I haven't seen or read "Into the Wild" but I have read "The Road" and "No Country for Old Men." Both were good reads and, luckily, pretty good movies, too.

  14. Under the Banner of Heaven was a real page turner. I followed it up by researching some of the fundamentalist communities he mentions. They don't look like fun places to live, to say the least. Into the Wild was also great. I just ordered myself Three and Out as a Christmas present for myself. Can't wait.

    Thanks for sharing this. Always interesting to know what is on other M fans minds.

  15. Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I just want to point out that there is a very big difference between "the fundamentalist mormans" and our religion. I don't want to get into a theological debate, just didn't want people to think we are the same because people often make that mistake.

    I also wouldn't characterize us as an "offshoot" to Christianity. I guess it depends on what your definition of Christianity is, but I would think that a church that believes in Christ as the son of God who die for the sins of the world and places him as the head of the church would be considered Christian, and not just of offshoot of the religion.

    I don't want this post to seem argumentative, I just wanted to clarify the difference between the two faiths.

    Anyway, I always look forward to your thoughts on football and now I can add your book suggestions to the list as well. Thanks Magnus.

  16. @ Anonymous 1:58 p.m.

    I didn't really think that Mormons themselves would consider themselves Christian, since it seems that they have added some things to the traditional Christian Bible. Just like I don't view Judaism to be Christian, I don't see Mormons as Christian, either. Maybe my definition of Christianity is a little more limited, I guess.

    Regardless, I was hoping that my comment about fundamentalism would make it clear that the book isn't about the mainstream Mormon religion, at least not entirely. I do have some questions about the Mormon faith and some things that seem contradictory, but I guess this probably isn't the place for that discussion.

  17. @ Thunder 2:05

    I checked the site for a way to private message you but couldn't find one. If there is a way I could send you my email address and you could send me the questions you have, I'd be more than happy to answer them.

    Just in response to your post we do consider ourselves Christian and have never actually added anything to the bible. We use the same bible every other Christian religion uses, the King James version of the bible. We do, however, have other books we use, but none of those contradict anything the bible teaches.

    Anyway, let me know if there is a way to private message you and I would be happy to have a discussion on the topic.

  18. @ Anonymous 2:43 p.m.

    On the "Bio and Contact" tab at the top of the page, you can find my e-mail address for the site. I would appreciate a chance to inquire about some of the things I've learned (or think I've learned).

  19. I hesitate to post this because I know that this is a football site, but I cannot in good conscience let it go...

    Mormons are not Christians. The mere fact that they have additional books that are viewed as equal authority to the Bible means they have added to the Bible. Secondly the Mormon Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Bible, which everything hinges on how you view Jesus. Mormons believe that Jesus is the spirit brother of Satan. Mormons are not Christian because they deny that there is only one God, denies that Jesus is the uncreated creator, and undermines the authority and reliablity of the Bible.

    Check it out for yourself if interested:

  20. What authority decrees who or what is "Christian"? My guess is that the only true authority won't be posting here.

    If you aren't that authority, it comes down to your personal faith, which probably has no greater status than other religions except in your head. I'll respect what's in your head if you'll respect what's in mine. It's not hard to imagine where the 'my religion is better than yours' debate ends.

    Finally, it's an argument about words, not religion -- the religion is what it isw, whether or not you choose to attach some adjective to it.

  21. @Anonymous 7:26pm:

    According to CARM, whom you cited, Roman Catholics aren't Christian either!

  22. My intent is/was not to offend, but merely to present the truth. You are correct that the true authority, Jesus, will most likely not post here. However, its more than "personal faith" or simply semantics. We can have personal faith in a lot of things that don't pan out, for example 401k, government, football teams, etc. Being a Christian isn't like being in a particular ethnic group or being a Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran or whatever. Being a Christian is being a member of the body of Christ, Jesus Christ of the Bible - no other book.

    Finally, if you read the whole cited text in CARM, you would have seen that they didn't make a blanket statement against Catholics. What it said was, "Are Roman Catholics Christians? They are if they have trusted in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins." and "No one can say whether a Roman Catholic is truly a Christian or not since we cannot know people's hearts." I know these quotes may be a little out of context, but I wanted to show specifically that CARM did not say hands down if you are a Catholic then you are not a Christian.

    I think I'll leave it at that so as not to cause any further controversy, but if anyone is interested or wants to learn more I'd be happy to point you to resources that may help you make a decision for yourself.

  23. How about this....Instead of trying to figure out what Mormonism is by reading someones opinion who obviously knows very little about the religion you try resources like Or perhaps talk to someone who practices the religion?

    I am being serious here...If you wanted to learn french would you get a book on speaking Russian? If you wanted to learn about the History of Great Britain would you read a text on the history of Germany?

    If you want to REALLY know something about the mormon religion ask me, or another member of the religion or research from sites like; not by asking someone who knows nothing about except some garbage they read on a website known for being anti-mormon.

    Also, "presenting the truth" may be a stretch for what you did there...just sayin.

  24. @ Anonymous 2:22 p.m.

    While a site like (which I have not visited yet) might be a good source for information on modern Mormonism, one of the basic tenets of "Under the Banner of Heaven" seems to be that the modern LDS church ignores much of the early church doctrine. My guess would be that site is a good place to go to find out what the modern church believes, but perhaps not the best place to go for a historical perspective (not that UTBOH is the best historical perspective, either).

    Regardless, if you're strictly talking about what Mormons/LDS believe, then probably answers all or most of anyone's questions.

  25. @Anonymous 1:50 PM:

    I don't see those words anywhere on the page I cited. CARM is pretty unambiguous about the Catholic church: "It is not a Christian church". Here is more:

    "So, even though Roman Catholicism claims to be Christian and that it is the one true church, it violates the essentials of the Christian faith. It goes beyond what is written in God's word (1 Cor. 4:6). It denies the sole and true sovereignty of the living God by promoting prayer to and the worship of Mary. Also, it denies justification by faith alone in Christ alone. It is not a Christian church."

  26. Interestingly, I think the same conclusion is reached over and over in this thread, about several different topics:

    Don't put too much stock in what one compelling source says, whether it's Jon Krakauer, John Bacon,,, or anyone else. Usually you find out later that the story is much different than what they said and sometimes the 'compelling' story isn't true at all.

    (You don't have to think long to realize that "compelling" has never been indicative of "true"; in fact IME, when something is very compelling it's a tip-off that the author is compensating for a lack of facts.)

  27. Dude I am Mormon and even I find this discussion pointless on this forum. Can we get back to talking about football yet?